Letter, Opinion

STR petitioners are in favor of sensible short-term rental regulations

Dear Editor,

In last week’s Mountain Times, there was an article titled “Killington residents file petition against short-term rental regulations.” To be very clear, we, the Concerned Killington Taxpayers Association, that filed the petition on behalf of the voters, are not against short-term rental regulations. We are against “this version” of the short-term rental regulations and the questionable process that was followed in drafting these amendments. The only legal way to address our concerns was to file a petition to send the changes to a town vote.

Unfortunately, we could not “pick and choose” the pieces of the zoning amendments that we supported. Luckily, as a result of the petition, all town residents can now decide for themselves if these amendments are in the best interest of the town and if the Select Board followed the will of the voters in choosing the best version of these amendments.

The entire process that was followed in drafting these amendments was short-sighted and just a knee-jerk reaction to one problem house. From the beginning, the new zoning amendments were drafted internally, behind closed doors, and presented to the Planning Commission by Chet Hagenbarth, the town manager. The amendments took the most draconian approach as the first step: requiring registration, copies of permits, proof of liability insurance, an annual fee, and hiring an expensive outside monitoring firm to monitor for compliance. There was no proposal for an educational campaign, homeowner outreach or even the simple act of enforcing existing local and state regulations. No studies on short-term rentals in Killington were conducted. In fact, no other zoning rules in town would be enforced this way. Short-term rentals were singled out. Share houses, long-term rentals and other properties in the same zone would not have to comply with any of the newly proposed regulations. How did this meet the stated goal of addressing public health, safety and quality of life if some properties are treated differently than others?

When the planning commission agreed that this entire process should be slowed down and studied in more detail, its proposed “self-certification” process for all properties was randomly modified by the Select Board to only allow self-certification for short-term rental properties that slept eight or less. The planning commission disagreed with these changes, amongst others, and sent back revised zoning amendments that the Select Board failed to even consider.

The Select Board made its own additional changes to the zoning amendments, outside of public hearings, that suddenly appeared in the next drafted version without planning commission review. One could deduce that the Select Board had an agenda from the beginning and anything that did not fit that agenda was not considered.

During the June 2 Select Board meeting, in which our voter petition was presented and its validity immediately contested by the Select Board, Town Manager Chet Hagenbarth went on record to state that he would inform certain new voters who signed the petition of their increased tax obligations under Vermont’s Homestead Declaration, and that maybe they would drop their support of the petition once they realized their taxes could increase. Our legal counsel immediately stated that such an action could be considered retaliatory and even border on voter suppression.

Unfortunately, a pattern of retaliation seemed to be par for the course as the Select Board voted at their June 16 meeting to begin enforcing the existing zoning rules on short-term rentals of two occupants per bedroom, disallowing the additional plus-two that they had all previously decided upon to be reasonable. We can only assume this was a direct result of the filing of the petition. They did not choose to enforce occupancy restrictions across all properties in town, just short-term rental properties, once again singling them out.

Is this how town government should be conducted?

We formed our group of residents, taxpayers and businesses to file this petition and bring to light the many issues surrounding both the process and the amendments as written. We appreciate that some regulation may be needed and would be happy to endorse a proposal that included equal rules for all properties in the same zone, self-certification, a one-time registration fee, occupancy restrictions of two per bedroom plus two, and, moreover, compliance with and deference to state regulations on short-term rentals. We encourage all voters to understand the issues and make their own decisions in November when voting.

Dave McComb, Killington. Member of Concerned Killington Taxpayers Association.

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